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By LARRY VAUGHT
For years one knock on Kentucky high school football is that the state did not produce enough Division I linemen.
Brad Durham heard that when he played at Rockcastle County before he signed with the Wildcats.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I hear that and the statistics probably do prove it, but we are turning the edge on that and hopefully we will get more recruits and keep the tradition alive,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Durham.
The Cats certainly are doing their best to change that image this year. Zipp Duncan of Elizabethtown and Justin Jeffries of Louisville are the starting tackles. Stuart Hines of Bowling Green starts at guard. Durham has started in place of Jeffries when he was injured and true freshman Larry Warford of Richmond is a backup guard.
That leaves only center Jorge Gonzalez of Florida and guard Christian Johnson, who played his high school football in Virginia before his family moved to Fort Campbell, as non-Kentuckians in UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top seven linemen.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When I look at the production in the running game (against Auburn) and that we had and only officially gave up one sack because Morgan Newton got back to the line on a couple of others when he cut off his reads and ran, I think as a group I am not sure our line has played much better,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Go back to LSU a couple of years ago when we played against that great defense and did not give up sack and ran well enough to keep the defense honest.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We played basically some other people (besides the starters). Brad Durham started and split reps with Justin Jeffries. Larry Warford came in and did an outstanding job for the 18 to 20 snaps for three series and that let us move Stuart Hines to rest Christian Johnson. That combo together did a terrific job opening holes in our running game and did an admirable job of pass protection.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Jeffries said he really had thought about how many Kentuckians were playing in the offensive line until someone told him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We do take pride in that now. We are representing our state and we want to keep it going. We want all the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top linemen to come here and play,Ã¢â‚¬Â Jeffries said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Look at Texas, Oklahoma and all those big schools that supposedly pound the ball and on their roster 80 percent of their linemen are from the state. Why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it be Kentucky? I am glad we have good people in state that can play here,Ã¢â‚¬Â Durham said.
Brooks thought his offensive line would be a team strength last year. Instead, UK struggled to run the ball. Jeffries noted one reason was that injuries kept UK changing the lineup, a problem the Cats have not had this year except when he has been hurt.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody on the team believes we are a good. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just some of the outsiders that donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe and have not bought into us yet in the media and stuff. If we keep working hard, we can do some special things this year,Ã¢â‚¬Â Jeffries said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is nothing better than proving somebody wrong like we are now. I like doing that like we did at Auburn.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Brooks is almost afraid to praise his unit too much going into SaturdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game here with Louisiana-Monroe. He took the same approach going into the season to avoid putting pressure on the linemen like he did last year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Performance so far is clearly better than any offensive line I have had. Sacks, rushing yards against quality defenses. It is a very good group,Ã¢â‚¬Â Brooks said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Obviously they are getting a lionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s share of recognition they deserve and I have to hope they understand and do not get fat-headed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t last week when UK had to use quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Will Fidler Ã¢â‚¬â€ along with Randall Cobb Ã¢â‚¬â€ in place of injured Mike Hartline. All three quarterbacks ran for a touchdown and both Cobb and Derrick Locke ran for over 100 yards.
Durham said other than adjusting to different cadences from each quarterback, it was not that hard to cope with Hartline being out.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The checks and stuff, they are all taught to do the same thing. I think coach (Randy) Sanders does a good job teaching them all the same technique and to be in the same position no matter who the quarterback is. We just had to keep doing our jobs,Ã¢â‚¬Â Durham said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are tired or losing. We want to win. Nothing is more satisfying than pounding the ball on a team like we did at Auburn. If you can run for over 200 yards like that, the defense gets a reality check. The Auburn guys told us we were the toughest offensive line they had faced because we just kept hitting them. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the best praise we could ever get.Ã¢â‚¬Â